Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Streaming video and moving sites

This week we will be handling the video and audio streaming for the same conference we did last year. Last year we had 70,000 listeners and 20,000 viewers approx over 4-5 days. I don't know if this year will be bigger or smaller, we shall wait and see.

Last year I went to the country in which the conference is being held but this year I am not, so I have been setting up the links on the server ready for the feed and my son helped set up the 'shuttle' system to send to the conference. The 'shuttle' is a very small but powerful computer with a special card inside for converting video into the web stream. It's about the size of a large shoebox, but really a pretty powerful computer.

Anyway it took a while to configure, but not only is it working better than last year in the tests, but I learnt quite a bit more about video streaming in the process. It's a never ending cycle of learning and developing here. So the rest of the week I shall be [on and off] monitoring the feed and checking everything is working correctly.

I also moved one of the main sites we handle here from the second London server to our new server cluster in Frankfurt. There are still about 20 sites we have to move sometime soon.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Good news and tribulations...

I cannot believe it is two weeks since I wrote an update. It seems to have both flown by and dragged out for ever. I have been very stressed these last couple of weeks, but more of that later.

I have had meetings with a couple of our partners, resulting from the experiment in live radio on the Internet. The result of these meetings is that this area of work will certainly expand in the future. We are looking at more experiments leading to a full time service by the end of the year.

I have been editing a DVD in between. Having got the sequences together, I spent 2-3 days 'authoring' the DVD. Authoring is the process of puting in all the menus and links and what goes to where etc. In a multi-media training DVD this is pretty complex. Anyhow... having spent 2-3 days getting it ready to burn a demo to sent to our partners in the UK I click on the 'Make a DVD' button. Hard disk wirs... dialogue boxes come up on screen saying 10%, 20%, 30% etc up to 99% when its says [paraphrase] 'Croak, you gotta be joking this ain't gonna turn into a DVD for love nor money'. Actual message was 'Unknown Error UkErr01 - cannot make DVD'.

Furious I went to the website to talk to tech support for this commercial software. 'This product ceased to be supported in September 2005, please buy an upgrade'. The upgrade is 250 sterling! I downloaded the demo version of the upgrade, expecting since its an upgrade it will read in all the work I have done: Nope - 'Sorry you cannot import this file the version that made it is too old'. So I had to learn a new package and reauthor the same thing again... GRRRR...

Michael has managed to get the communication with the database working and the start of communication working with the mobile phone. So things are progressing pretty well there. I am encouraged having him doing the programming. He is much more logical and structured than I am which is what is needed in a programmer... I am good on the ideas and concepts and I can programme, but not good on all the 'what if's to test is something goes wrong. I have been his liaison with the project so have been in and out on this over the couple of weeks.

Next week we are handling the streaming of a live event in video and audio from Egypt. Last year there were 70,000 listeners and 20,000 viewers over 4-5 days. I have no idea how many to expect this year. I was in Egypt for this last year, but this year I am not going. An Egyptian colleague will be handling that end and I am handling all the stuff from Frankfurt servers.

The following week I shall be making a visit to Morocco to see some partners there. This will be the first time in Morocco and I am looking forward to it.

So... the stress point... this is something I don't normally write about here as my wife normally puts this sort of thing in her blog, but it has so affected me so much I think I have to have it here. The church we have been attending has adopted 'The Purpose Driven Life' lock, stock and barrel. The problem with the Purpose Driven Life is not that it is 100% wrong, but that it is a confused mix of good and bad. It is a mix of normal Christian doctrine and Southern California mega-church universalism. We have a word for this phenonema its called 'syncretism'. If you want to know exactly what it means, here's a pretty good definition.

Anyhow [as I appear to so often say], some people I am friendly with in the church have seen this too, but the leadership are into it hook, line and sinker and some people are being totally misled and deceived into not seeing all the errors... even the basic tenet is wrong, we should be spirit led not purpose driven!

Not sure where will be going from here church wise. I'm pretty sick about the whole thing.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Trials, tribulations and good news...

Another week gone by and it seems like only one day. This week has been marked by trials, tribulations and good news.

So first the good news. We have another volunteer for 2 months out here. He arrived late on Wednesday evening. He is a programmer and his job is to create a program that will take SMS messages and put them in a database and messages from the database and send them as SMS messages. This is part of our upgrading of the SMS system.

I had written a program to do this, but it suffered from two problems. Firstly the hardware we had been using for the purpose were normal domestic mobile phones connected to our servers. These proved to be too unreliable. Secondly in order to communicate with these Nokia mobile phones we had to use some software called gnokii. That was designed for talking to 1 mobile phone only. In order to get it to talk to more than one mobile phone I had to do some very complex programming, which proved to be unreliable and make the whole project unstable when using more than one phone.

We have now found some new better professional Desktop mobiles from a British company called Burnside Telecom. These appeare very much better and the task of the programmer is to write a new simpler [and therefore more reliable] program to talk to these units.

So, that't the good news... we had got a new computer ready for Michael [the programmer] to use. It was using a spare motherboard we had and we bought new components to go with it. On Thursday we turned it on for him and within 10 minutes it froze. We rebooted. Within 10 minutes it froze... again and again. We tried different configurations and new hard drive and... it froze. So that had to be taken to the computer shop for them to look at. In the meantime Michael is using an old computer we have as a 'lab' machine for testing. This is old and slow. So inappropriate for him to use for the project.

And... CYTA... [the main telephone company here on the island] decided to do an 'upgrade' to the DSL system in our town this week starting very early Wednesday morning. Upgrade? Hmmm... it took most of Wednesday to get one of our two links working again. The other, which was with a different ISP, took till Thursday evening to get working. The other ISP blamed CYTA for the disruption. And it took till late Thursday evening to get all our facilities back to normal. Yuk. I hate ISPs that cause us more work!